Dragons v Warriors
The Dragons will gladly bid farewell to this season. It has been a disaster for them. They are in second-last position on 16 points, from just six wins and 17 losses, and will finish second-last regardless of the result here. Their season hit a new low on Monday night, when they lost 26-22 to guaranteed wooden-spooners the Eels. The Dragons have won just one of their past 10 games. That win came against competition leaders the Rabbitohs, 22-18, but it was a false dawn. The Dragons have lost six straight since then.
The Warriors have had a season that has been even more erratic than you often get from them. Not surprisingly, their ups and downs have left them walking a tightrope as they enter the final round. They are in 10th place, still with a chance of making the finals but handicapped by their poor points for-and-against differential of minus-50. To get there, they need to win this game and hope that two of the three teams immediately ahead of them on the competition table – the Knights, Cowboys and Titans – lose.
After losing three games in a row to just about say goodbye to their season, the Warriors have maintained a pulse by beating the Titans (24-22) and Raiders (50-16). If they don't make the finals it will be very disappointing, not only for them but also for many league fans outside of their own supporters who would agree the Warriors would add something to the big, end-of-season games. The Warriors appeal as a genuine top-eight team at their best, and shouldn't be in a position where they don't have control of their own destiny in that regard, but that's the price you pay for not establishing consistency.
It wouldn't be a surprise if this game opened up. The Dragons have defended well on occasions, but they can see the finishing line now and their intensity may be down a bit. The Warriors won't die wondering. They will move the ball wide to try to get attackers like Konrad Hurrell and Manu Vatuvei heavily involved, and that tactic will have a big influence on how the game is played. The Warriors can at least put some pressure on those teams just ahead of them by winning, since the others don't play until later in the round.
The Dragons have named an unchanged 17, with Will Matthews added as the 18th man. Whether that is the line-up coach Steve Price goes with, though, remains to be seen. Coaches, when their team plays on Monday night and they have to name a team on Tuesday, often just name the same 17 and make any changes later.
Dane Nielsen returns from injury in the centres for the Warriors, pushing Jerome Ropati to the wing and Ngani Laumape to what is a six-man bench. Sio Siua Taukeiaho is the other player added to the bench.
Watch Out Dragons: Vatuvei got three of the Warriors' nine tries against the Raiders. Surprisingly, Hurrell didn't get any of them – but that just makes him more likely to score here. Vatuvei's treble took him to the top of the try-scoring list for the Warriors this season with 15 in 18 games, leapfrogging Hurrell (13 in 19). Expect further try-scoring activity from at least one, and likely both of them, here.
Watch Out Warriors: If the Dragons are going to do something here, it has to start at the top. Captain Ben Creagh has to lead the way with an inspirational performance. Creagh has run for big metres in a lot of games this season, but not much has come off the back of it. I don't know what happens in the Dragons' dressing-room before games, but Creagh should demand nothing less than a huge performance from his players – for the club and for the fans who deserve better.
Plays To Watch: Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson: Is he going to run or pass? Who knows? When he's in form, like he was against the Raiders, the defence sure doesn't know. Johnson ran for 135 metres – his third-biggest total of the season – and had one line-break and five offloads, and scored three tries.
Dragons five-eighth Adam Quinlan is a rookie, but he's having a go in a team that is mostly struggling. Quinlan is not afraid to go for a scamper if there is nothing else on, and he has four tries in nine games for his initiative.
Key Match-Up: The backline players named for the Warriors have scored 50 tries between them this season. Those named for the Dragons have tallied 35.
Up front, the Dragons can't afford to just break even in the forward battle – that won't be enough. They need to get on top so that when the Warriors get the ball they are usually playing off their own line and may be forced to take risks that could lead to mistakes.
Where It Will Be Won: In the head. The season is still alive for the Warriors, but effectively over for the Dragons. If the Dragons aren't really up for this game, the Warriors will immediately sense that and make them pay. The Warriors are the last team you want to play if you're not really committed. The Dragons have got to make sure they are revved up... or else.
The History: Played19; Dragons 15, Warriors 4. The Dragons have won nine of the past 10 clashes.
Match Officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Henry Perenara; Sideline Officials – Steve Carrall & Dave Ryan;Video Referees – Jason Robinson & Luke Patten.
NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week including the Dragons v Warriors clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live, 3pm.
The Way We See It: The Dragons have a great recent record against the Warriors, but they are not that same team now. The Warriors should win this one. They have still got something to play for and they have the attacking players to do the Dragons harm. The problem for the Dragons is that if the Warriors start shooting on target, they don't have much ammunition with which to reply. Warriors by 12 points.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.